Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Truancy Court

Posted by bsflag2007 on Friday, December 29, 2006

HoCo BOE is looking into implementing a Truancy Court.  The BOE has given the go ahead to develop the program.

Trying to find new and creative ways to keep kids in school is always a good idea.   “Truancy Courts” have been very successful in different parts of the country.  Programs in North Carolinas Durham and Mecklenburg Counties claim “Some elementary and middle school students who used to skip school frequently are now getting perfect or near-perfect attendance records thanks to Truancy Court,”  

There are also programs in Louisville KY and others – the ones with the highest long term success rates vary considerably from the “models” HoCo says it is planning to follow.

“The success of this program is to know that it’s a community issue,” Byer, an energetic, enthusiastic advocate of children, said. “Judges, the Division of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Social Services, the school, mental health and social workers all need to be involved.”Byer emphasizes that judges need to look at the causes behind truancy and offer real programs, not just sluff the child off to another agency. They must look a child in the eye, and his or her parents, and applaud their accomplishments, no matter how small.Abuse and neglect cases are the easiest to identify,” Byer said. She listed other possible reasons a child may avoid school: Academic failure, chemical dependency issues, parents with chemical dependency, domestic violence, peers, poverty, language, having to baby-sit siblings, and parents who place little value on education.  

Byer said that suspending and punishing a child, embarrassing, isolating or humiliating does not help the children. “We need to stop doing things that don’t work. Praise the parents, too, when the kids are doing well,” Byer said. “Everyone has value.”

These successful truancy court programs emphasize getting to the root cause of the absences — not a punitive approach.

Too bad HoCo will probably not be taking that approach.

Unfortunately – it does not appear that this is the direction HoCo is planning to go, not suprprising with “Mark Blom, the board’s attorney and one of the people behind the concept” involved.

Just to be completely clear – I consider Mark Blom to be the single most destructive force in Howard County Education.

He is the “legal genius” behind enormous costs to the system, and his litigious postures set the tone which in past years has been one of disrespect to teachers, employees, students and the public.  He was the “chief of staff” for the former Supt, O’Rourke – and imho was part and parcel of the incredible failures  and scandals of that “era”.  Why he is still on the HCPSS payroll is beyond my comprehension.  And now, his very visible hand in the new “Truancy Court” plan gives me pause to keep a very close eye on the development of this project.

More punitive is a recipe for failure – but it will keep central office busy, and some people on their toes.

Although Mr. Plunkett the business, community, government relations officer for the school system, and one of the originators of the concept says “Current truancy laws only impose [criminal] penalties on parents. “The problem, however, rests with the students. … It would be a proactive measure.”

However,  the characterization in the Baltimore Sun of the proposal ….”A small team of Howard County legislators, litigators and school system officials will work in the coming weeks to draft a bill that would create the county’s first truancy court that places harsher penalties on students.”  sounds much more ominous – and accurate.

“Board members were told that truant students could face consequences that include community service, counseling, substance abuse evaluation and treatment, mental health evaluation and treatment, a curfew and loss of driving privileges.”

Now, that may seem reasonable — I agree that if a “kid” isn’t going to school, it might be a good idea to make his “off time” as boring as possible by withholding driving priviledges.  And, depending on how the program ultimately plays out – giving approporiate counseling is a good idea too.

However,  we should listen to what is being said – and take them at their word.  They intend to model the truancy Court after relatively punitive models — and then take the more punitive aspects further — for example…

“The Howard County truancy court would be based on a model used in Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties. However, unlike that model, which applies only to students 15 and younger, the Howard County court would apply to students 12 and older.”

“Turning 16 does not give you a right to get cavalier,” said Mark Blom.

That sounds like Mr. Blom.  Stomp out that “cavalier” attitude through force and punishment.

You know, that may work — for the authority fearing, generally well behaved kids. — the kids who might partipate in some gawd-awful prank – like senior skip day.  Have them arrested, put it on their permanent record, and hope it keeps them out of the college of their choice.
Like “drug testing” the athletes and kids involved in extra-curricular activities.  Pick out the group least likely to be a problem and most likely to be intimidated by the punishments — it’s a feel good fix for the impotent adults.

It lets them say “Hey, we’re doing stuff!” without really getting into the hard nitty gritty work of getting to the root of individual kids’ problems, and sticking with effective remedies to the entrenched social, emotional and educational problems facing our most vulnerable community members.

I’ll keep an open mind until I see the final plan — but folks, this needs to be watched closely.  HCPSS is not “child friendly” in many ways.  You may not think this is going to be a problem for you, because, of course – your kid is not a juevenile delinquent or a truant.

But, you are the one who will be getting the phone calls and being dragged in front of attendence tribunals…. because you care.  I actually had a central office person call me last year to let me know that if I took my son to PARIS with me for a week that he would be in jeopardy of being held back in the fifth grade!!!!

What would be more educationally valuable – a week in Paris, or a week that consisted of two half days, a day off, and several assemblies and parties?   I suspect the mother who got the call saying if her 17 year old who hadn’t shown up for class all week – because he was playing video games – did not show up he would be held back in the 9th grade, again, responded the same way.

Let’s hope the new BOE keeps a close eye and does not leave this potentially positive program turn into yet another exercise in “beat on the good kids”.

Cindy Vaillancourt

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9 Responses to “Truancy Court”

  1. Dan Burdette said

    Maryland Education Law requires that all children between the ages of 5 and 16 attend school or receive instruction.

    I am concerned that the truancy court may backfire for kids over 16. If I am over 16 and don’t attend school, why would I subject myself to truancy court when I can dropout, legally, from public education?

    For kids under 16 the idea of truancy court is great. One of the current problems related to “habitual truants” is that the law holds the parent responsible, not the child. Many times the parent is doing all they can to motivate their child to attend school, but, if a single parent leaves for work before the child leaves for school and returns home after the student comes home, it can be quite difficult. Rather than punish a parent who truly is doing the best they can, it would be great to work with the parent through the truancy court to place more consequences directly on the recalcitrant child.

  2. C. Cooper said

    After working in the foster care system for 10 years and being a single parent of a 16 year old son with truancy issues & an IEP, all I can say is that I completely agree! Thanks for the posting Mr. Burdette.

    C. Cooper

  3. cindy vaillancourt said

    Thank you both for you experienced feedback. Are you familiar with the programs in Kentucky and North Carolina that focus on interventions and problem solving instead of punishments? Do you have thoughts on those you could share?

    HCPSS is formulating their new policy — maybe it is not too late to keep HCPSS from more aggresively pushing troubled kids out of the school/education system.

    Cindy V.

  4. Dan Burdette said

    I am not familiar with the programs in other States. In HCPSS, Pupil Personnel Workers (PPWs)work with families regarding attendance issues.

    HCPSS has two effective programs, prior to court intervention, that bring families in direct contact with services available in the county. Project Attend and the Connection Center bring together the State’s Attorneys office, Juvenile Justice, Social Services, Mental Health Authority, Family Preservation, and other community agencies to attempt to assist the family prior to filing charges.

    The truancy court would be one more tool to work with kids and their parents to improve attendance and prevent dropout.

    I have expressed my opinons directly to members of the committee working on the truancy court issue.

    Thanks and Happy New Year,

    Dan B.

  5. cynthia vaillancourt said

    Dan B wrote: “I have expressed my opinons directly to members of the committee working on the truancy court issue.”

    I don’t want to read more into this comment than the writer intended — so I am asking, is there any reason that information/opinions you have shared with “those working on the truancy issue” should not be in the public domain?

    Do you believe the work of committees developing policy recommendations for the public school system should be confidential?

    Do you think it would be more reasonable to express concerns and offer alternatives before the policy recommendations are completed— or wait until all that work has been done and then offer after-the-fact criticism?

    Cindy V.

  6. Dan Burdette said

    The issue should be in the public domain.

    I believe the Board of Education holds public hearings on policy issues and asks for comments from the public.

    I just heard about the progress on the truancy court on December 21st. I work for HCPSS and immediately expressed my concern to a co-worker and my boss, both of whom are on the truancy court committee.

  7. cindy vaillancourt said

    Thank you for your prompt response. I appreciate the clarification.

    I hope many folks participate in the public hearings – they are important. Though I hope more people weigh in before that – as you have done – to help sway the direction the proposal takes before a “plan” is developed.

    I have noticed that in many cases, by the time the “plan” is presented and public hearings are held — the HCPSS employees and “committee-folk” are pretty invested in the “plan”.

    At that point, suggestions, concerns, alternatives, options presented “feel” like criticism, (in the fault finding/ complaint sense of the word).

    I agree 100% with your concern that, if the plan develops along the lines some of the early comments have indicated, there is very likely the truancy court will backfire.

    Some might argue that “cutting loose” the deadwood is the plan — I’ll assume that is NOT the intent, but a forseeable unintended consequence.

    CIndy V.

  8. Keyser Sose said

    If the county did not encourage section 8 and low incomce housing, but merely confined itself making sure teachers, law enforcement and firefighters in the county had afforadable housing, we wouldn’t have to worry too much about a truancy problem. Yes, the working middle class does have social, emotional and family problems, which we as a community should deal with, but importing the poor behavioral traits, crime, drug abuse and persistent unemployment, through sunbsidized housing is the harbinger of a problems.

    Let’s keep Howard County a community for progressive achievers.

  9. bsflag2007 said

    I’m not sure about the premise of your comments — however, as far as the broad range of causes for truancy, I think you make a good point.

    There are many and varied reasons why student develop problems with truancy —- and it is crucial that programs and remedies are designed to be as flexible and agile as necessary to get to the root of the problem and fix it.

    HCPSS frequently tries to come up with “magic bullets” and “one size fits all” answers to incredibly complicated and diverse issues – even throwing out programs that have shown success with limited populations because they don’t provide the all encompassing “fix” that the magic bullet philosophy looks for.

    This is one of the things those who are developing the “truancy court” must be mindful of and try to avoid.

    CIndy V.

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